Open House 2017

Quietly tucked away, beneath the lawn at Arts Centre Melbourne, hidden below Inge King’s iconic Forward Surge (colloquially known as ‘The Wave’) is the home of Australia’s performing arts history.

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Inge King, Forward Surge, 1976, 50mm mild steel 
Commissioned in 1975, William Angliss Art Fund
Public Art Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Established in 1975, the Australian Performing Arts Collection is formally recognised as a state collection but has a national focus encompassing the history of the performing arts in Australia across dance, music, opera, theatre, circus, comedy, puppetry and magic. The collection currently holds over 650,000 objects including costumes, set models, stage designs, props and puppets, photographs, posters, programs, and the archives of some of Australia’s most significant performers, companies and designers.

It is not often we get to open our doors to the public, but once a year during Open House Melbourne we get to do just that. During twelve tours over two days, we brought over 100 people through on a whirlwind, showstopping tour of the Australian Performing Arts Collection. So much to see and so little time!

This year the highlights included:

  • Dame Nellie Melba’s costume from La Traviata
  • Kylie Minogue’s gold hot pants worn in the ‘Spinning Around’ music video
  • Geoffrey Rush’s costume worn in Diary of a Madman
  • A handwritten notebook  by Nick Cave
  • Wirth’s Circus scrapbook documenting the early history of Australian circus
  • Costumes from Dame Edna’s stage wardrobe
  • Peter Allen’s maracas
  • MTC’s set model for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll 
  • Leather jacket worn by Bon Scott of AC/DC
  • Designs from Australia’s leading stage designers including Ann Church, Jennie Tate, Mel Drummond and Roger Kirk.
  • Not to mention clown shoes, ballet shoes, magic tricks, puppets and much much more!
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Notebook compiled by Nick Cave, 1984-1985, Gift of Nick Cave, 2006, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
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Hot pants worn by Kylie Minogue in Spinning Around video, 2000, Gift of Kylie Minogue, Cultural Gifts Program, 2004, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
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Set model for Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Melbourne Theatre Company, 1995, Gift of the Melbourne Theatre Company, 1995, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne
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Maracas purchased by Peter Allen in Rio de Janeiro, 1977, Gift of Larry Rinehart, 2009, Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Thank you to everyone who attended! We absolutely love showing you around and hope to get to share more of Australia’s performing arts history with you. We think this collection deserves a permanent gallery of it’s very own. What do you think? Tell us in the comments below!

Tales from the Research Centre

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Up on level 7 of Hamer Hall at Arts Centre Melbourne, a room walled with books overlooks the river and a beautiful view across the bridge to Flinders Street Station, St Pauls’ Cathedral and the imposing city skyline.  But rarely is time spent appreciating this grand vista, as this small room is our Research Centre for the Australian Performing Arts Collection.   Anyone researching the performing arts can book an appointment to study our archival collections for their projects. It’s our own little mini reader’s room, if you like.  The view might be grand, but heads are down as researchers pore through extant documents to learn more about performers, directors, designers, productions, producers and theatre process from the nineteenth century to today.  The online service also facilitates use of collection images for publications, academic theses, television documentaries, genealogy and even the odd school project!

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The Research Centre is always a quietly busy place.  A snapshot from this year shows research on theatre architecture, pantomime, costume, company finances and performers such as Billy Maloney, a well-known child singer and vaudeville comedian during the inter-war period, who later headed up children’s performance troupes. Billy was known as “the man with the Silver Stick” – the titular item being presented to him by the Prince of Wales (the future but short reigning Edward VIII) in 1920.

The bright orange clown costume pictured below, was owned by Michael Horowitz, a famous circus clown in Warsaw in the 1930’s.  Sue Smethurst got in touch as she is currently researching the family tree. Consequently three generations of Michael Horowitz’s descendants came to visit the Collection to see the costume owned by their ancestor.

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Clown outfit worn by Michael Horowitz, a member of the USSR Circus, c 1925, Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

During their visit, the family told the story of Michael Horowitz who was a famous Polish clown. In order to escape the invading Nazis, Horowitz joined a Russian circus which was about to tour to Australia.  Michael made his home here and after working menial jobs, was employed at GTV 9 in the 50’s as one of the clowns on the children’s programme “The Tarax Show”, along with Alf Gertler and Norman Brown. He was very much a member of the channel 9 ‘family’ in the early days of Australian television.  Ernie Carroll, the man behind Ozzie Ostrich later on, supported Michael Horowitz’s application to remain Australia.

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Back row from L: Henry Horowitz, Meg Horowitz, Sue Smethurst, Paul Horowitz
Front from L: Charlie Horowitz, Alex Horowitz

Pertaining to the costume itself, the family believe that Michael might have done the exquisite embroidery as he was a great sewer.  However, the costume is dated around 1925 when Michael was only fifteen years old. Is this the costume of a 15 year old? Is it an appropriated costume from use elsewhere? If that date is accurate, why did he choose to take it with him years later when fleeing the country?

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Detail, Clown outfit worn by Michael Horowitz, a member of the USSR Circus, c 1925, Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

These are the kinds of questions which both frustrate and fascinate the researcher. The detective work our researchers do is painstaking. They read volumes of material and piece lives and events together from a line in a newspaper clipping here; a letter there, and in the case of Michael Horowitz, they also draw on generational memory passed down through the family.

Thanks to all our researchers for keeping us so busy and special thanks to Sue Smethurst and the Horowitz family for their permissions and images for this piece.

The Australian Performing Arts Collection Research Centre at Arts Centre Melbourne is open by appointment only on Mondays and Tuesdays.  researchservice@artscentremelbourne.com.au

Claudia Funder
Collections Coordinator, Online and Research.

Celebrating the life of David Vigo

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David Vigo in the offices of Clifford Hocking & David Vigo, Melbourne, 1986. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection. 

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of David Vigo. David was best known as one half of Clifford Hocking and David Vigo presents, the most influential promotion team in Australia over the past four decades.

David Vigo was born near Plymouth, England in 1943. From an early age he expressed a love of music, an interest in other cultures and a fascination with numbers – passions that would form the bedrock of his later success as one of Australia’s most respected international promoters. In 1957 the Vigo family migrated to Australia, the first of many journeys undertaken by Vigo throughout his life. In 1960, aged just 16, Vigo moved to Melbourne where a chance encounter with Clifford Hocking, co-owner of Thomas’ Record Shop in Bourke Street proved to be a turning point in his life. A Monash University student by day, Vigo spent much of his free time attending concerts and discussing music, books, art and philosophy with Clifford and his friends at the bohemian Norman Robb bookshop.

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David Vigo with beat poet Allen Ginsberg, Adelaide Airport, 1972. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection.

In 1962, Vigo attended Hocking’s first two offerings as a promoter. The first, a concert  by Indian musicians Sharan Rani and Chantur Lal, the second, Barry Humphries’ first one-man show, A Nice Night’s Entertainment. In his own words, he was hooked and after several false starts working in publishing and libraries, Vigo formally teamed up with Clifford Hocking in 1965.

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Photograph signed to Cliff and David by Zakir Hussain, Ali Akbar Kahn (centre) and Susan Rosenblum, 1973. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection.

Over the next 40 years Clifford Hocking and David Vigo were a dominant force in the Australian entertainment industry. They promoted artists they loved and that they believed Australian audiences would embrace. In many cases they helped artists to build international careers. The work they presented was eclectic and adventurous ranging from stand-up comedy to classical music.

They were a wonderful partnership firstly because they did different things. Clifford was all instinct, all feeling, all heart. David did the mechanics. And I don’t say that dismissively. He did the arithmetic, he did the budgets with enormous detail. He did the marketing…he had all the contacts in the newspapers. He knew all the venues so when they said they wanted to have these dates, they trusted them…They were scrupulously honest.

Carrillo Gantner, 2014

Drawing everything together was an abiding interest in the improvisational nature of jazz, comedy and the music of Northern India, Spain, Ireland and Africa. Among the many, many acts they championed were guitarists Paco Pena, John Williams and Leo Kottke; singers Jeannie Lewis, Blossom Dearie, Cleo Laine and Christy Moore; comedians Rowen Atkinson and Lenny Henry, and musicians Stephane Grappelli, Jacques Loussier, and the Buena Vista Social Club. In 2003 they were instrumental in establishing the award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir.

Always generous with his time and knowledge David Vigo was a Trustee of Arts Centre Melbourne from 2007 to 2014. He worked closely with the Performing Arts Collection to create the Clifford Hocking and David Vigo Collection and with colleague Ian Roberts recently recorded archival interviews with many of his artists and associates including Paco Pena, John Pinder, Carrillo Gantner, Jeannie Lewis and Slava Grigoryan. When discussing his own extraordinary career with Roberts in 2014, David Vigo attributed the success of Hocking & Vigo to a very simple philosophy, “We kept ourselves small…We acted independent of government money and sponsorship…We were free. We did what we wanted.”

Selected items from the Clifford Hocking & David Vigo Collection are currently on display in the Smorgon Family Plaza, Arts Centre Melbourne. For further online information on the work of Clifford Hocking and David Vigo please visit Clifford Hocking: An Australian Impresario.

Roll Up! Roll Up! Circus Automata Is In Town

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Circus Automata by Mark Ogge, 2015

There has been quite a buzz around Arts Centre Melbourne this week with the arrival of Circus Automata, a mechanical coin-operated diorama created by Melbourne artist Mark Ogge.  The diorama is the culmination of Ogge’s lifelong fascination with set painting, circus, vaudeville, commedia dell’arte, Weimar cabaret, Renaissance painting, automata, 18th century miniature paper theatres and Daguerre’s popular diorama theatres of early 19th century Paris.  Ogge has also drawn inspiration from historical circus and performance photographs held in Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection which he has studied over many years.

Within the diorama’s proscenium arch a fanciful world of some twenty-three characters including a strongman, acrobats, a human cannonball and a whimsical donkey unicorn come to life. Each figure is powered by a tiny motor and is accompanied by its own sound effect and choreography.

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Ogge’s circus-inspired paintings and installations have been drawing gasps from audiences around the world since the early 2000s. In 2001 he designed and painted an elaborate new façade for the much-loved Famous Spiegeltent and for ten years Melbournians have watched it magically appear and disappear from the Arts Centre Melbourne’s forecourt.

Since 2006 Ogge has been the official artist of Speigelworld, an Australian-led immersive entertainment experience based in New York. Under the patronage of Australian impresario Ross Mollison, Ogge has created a series of works designed to celebrate the opening of each new Spiegelworld show. Artworks have included a monumental archway for Spiegelworld’s New York base and this three-dimensional mechanical diorama created for the opening Absinthe in 2015.

Circus Automata, accompanied by its original artwork, will be on display in Smorgon Family Plaza, Arts Centre Melbourne until 20 March 2016.

 

Now Showing – Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment & The Australian Experience

Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment & the Australian Experience, Gallery I, Arts Centre Melbourne. Photo by Carla Gottgens
Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment & the Australian Experience, Gallery 1, Arts Centre Melbourne. Photo by Carla Gottgens

What a great response we have had to our new exhibition, Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment & the Australian Experience! Thank you to everyone who has already been in and taken the time to let us know how much you have enjoyed it.

As part of the national commemoration of the Anzac Centenary we were very keen to explore the often overlooked role played by the performing arts in the lives of Australians during times of war, both on the home front and in the field. Theatres of War explores the power of performance in bringing people together, lifting spirits and offering a form of escapism during times of great adversity.

In researching the exhibition within our own rich Performing Arts Collection we were struck by how many well-known Australian performers had carried out relatively unknown war work. Performers such as Dame Nellie Melba who received her DBE for her fundraising activities during the First World War and Norman Hetherington (aka Mr Squiggle) who entertained his fellow soldiers in the jungles of New Guinea during the Second World War. More recently singers Kylie Minogue and Doc Neeson, and comedians Hamish and Andy have provided a morale-boosting connection to home for soldiers on active service.

Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment and the Australian Experience, Gallery 1, Arts Centre Melbourne. Photo by Carla Gottgens.
Theatres of War: Wartime Entertainment and the Australian Experience, Gallery 1, Arts Centre Melbourne. Photo by Carla Gottgens.

Many of these performers have generously lent material for inclusion in the exhibition and we are thrilled to have on display the famous piano used by Australian prisoners in the Changi prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War, courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Instruments used by prisoners in Changi POW camp during World War II. Instruments kindly lent by the Australian War Memorial. Photo by Carla Gottgens
Instruments used by prisoners in Changi POW camp during World War II. Instruments kindly lent by the Australian War Memorial. Photo by Carla Gottgens

The exhibition continues until 20 September 2015.

Celebrating Edna and Kylie

‘Celebrating Edna and Kylie’, featuring highlights from the Dame Edna Everage and Kylie Minogue costume collections at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Performing Arts Collection.

The countdown is on as we race towards the opening of the New Hamer Hall and what better way to kick off the party than with a celebration of two of Australia’s most successful popular entertainers: Dame Edna Everage and Kylie Minogue.

Dame Edna’s Last Hurrah

Mrs Norman Everage first appeared on stage as the ‘Olympic Hostess’ at Melbourne University’s Union Theatre in 1955. She wore no make-up, wig or glasses and her clothes were second-hand cast offs. From these humble beginnings the upwardly-mobile housewife from 36 Humouresque Street, Moonee Ponds took on the world. In 1974 she accepted the title of Dame in 1974 before passing through megastardom in the 1990s on her way to her current gigastardom.

Dame Edna’s fearless social commentary (and her ability to parody those she professes to admire) may have endeared her to generations of fans but it is her visually striking comic wardrobe that has always been her secret weapon. Since 1981, Dame Edna’s manager, Barry Humphries has been donating costumes to the Performing Arts Collection helping us in our quest to document the rise and rise of Edna. The collection now includes over 500 costumes and accessories including many show-stopping gowns designed by Bill Goodwin and Stephen Adnitt.

This year Dame Edna is celebrating her Diamante Jubilee with one final World Tour. While not officially retiring she says she is now ready to ‘kick off her heels and tend to her gladiolas’, although I suspect she will miss the limelight and adulatation.

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In 1987, at the height of her ‘Neighbours’ fame, Kylie Minogue released a catchy cover version of the 1960s pop tune, ‘Locomotion’. The song would go on to become the highest selling single of the decade in Australia and buoyed by its success Kylie relocated to London. The rest, as they say, is history.

This year Kylie Minogue – recording artist, actress, style icon and consummate live performer – celebrates 25 years in showbiz, a remarkable milestone in a notoriously fickle industry. The accolades she has received throughout her career are many and include worldwide record sales of over 68 million, ARIA Awards, Brit Awards and in 2004 a coveted Grammy Award. In 2008 she was awarded an OBE for ‘services to music’ and in 2011 she was inducted by the Australian Recording Industry Association into the ARIA Hall of Fame.

In 1991 Kylie donated a single costume from her 1990 ‘Enjoy Yourself’ tour to the Performing Arts Collection. Today, the Kylie Minogue Collection numbers almost 300 costumes charting her stylistic evolution from Girl-Next-Door to Sultry Showgirl in collaboration with high-profile international designers including Dolce & Gabanna, Chanel, Alexander McQueen and John Galliano.

So come in and join us in honouring two very special Australians. Celebrating Edna and Kylie is now showing in Smorgon Family Plaza, Theatres Building of Arts Centre Melbourne, open all day until late.